Shane Lowry produced a gutsy birdie-birdie finish to keep leader Richard Sterne in his sights at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
After missing the cut in last week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, the Open champion needs a decent result this week to reignite his Ryder Cup campaign and he will be relieved to have opened with a two-under 70 after a trying day on the Majlis Course at the Emirates Golf Club.
Just this week taking possession of the Association of Golf Writers’ Trophy for his stellar 2019 campaign, the Clara man birdied the third and eighth to turn in two-under before handing those shots back with unforced errors at the 15th and 16th.
But he bounced back well, pitching to six-feet to set up a birdie at the 17th before rifling a sky-high long iron to 45 feet at the 18th before two-putting for a birdie four.
He ended the day tied for 20th, six strokes behind Richard Sterne, the man he beat to claim the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship two years ago.
The South African (39) made his ninth birdie of the day at the ninth to card an eight-under par 64 and lead by a shot from big-hitting American Kurt Kitayama, with countryman Justin Harding and 2017 champion Sergio Garcia a further shot back on six-under after 66’s.
"It's always good to get off to a good start,” said Sterne, who had wrist surgery in March last year and missed most of the season.
Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre shot 67 to share fifth with Paul Casey, Spain’s Adrian Otageui and Belgium’s Thomas Detry, which will please captain Pádraig Harrington, who was three under with six holes to play but signed for a one-under 71 that left him tied for 37th alongside PGA champion Collin Morikawa, the world number four.
Graeme McDowell played alongside Lowry but he was out of sorts with his irons and his putter, three-putting twice in a 33-putt round as he made his lone birdie of the day at the 18th en route to a four-over 76.
Ryder Cup skipper Pádraig Harrington is keeping his fingers crossed for “a seriously big party” at Whistling Straits and he’s confident superstar Rory McIlroy will be ready to “prove a point” despite suffering another near-miss in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.